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‘Sweet Are the Uses of Adversity’ is an excerpt taken from Act II, Scene I of Shakespeare’s notable play ‘As You Like It. The following lines were uttered by Duke Senior after he is banished to the Forest of Arden by his brother who wished to become the Duke himself.
About the Poet (Playwright):
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an eminent English playwright, named ‘the Bard of Avon’. He is said to have shaped English Literature in itself. Famous works of his include ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, and ‘Hamlet’.
The theme of this excerpt is optimism. Even faced with an adversity, one that was unfairly forced upon him, no less, Duke Senior chooses to view the bright side of it. He encourages his loyal followers to do the same, urging them to see the positivity of their predicament.
This excerpt is not a poem per se, but is a dialogue delivered by Duke Senior. The stanzas here are thus merely for convenience. The lines do not follow a rhyme scheme.
Duke Senior: Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile, Hath not old custom made this life more sweet Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods More free from peril than the envious court?
The very start reveals that Duke Senior is the utterer of the forthcoming lines. He addressed his loyal followers and asks them rhetorically whether their present traditional life was not better than the falsity of luxuries and glamour they had previously been accustomed to. He, in fact, finds the Forest of Arden freeing for they were away from jealous, malicious eyes.
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam, The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind, Which, when it bites and blows upon my body, Even till I shrink with cold, I smile, and say, “This is no flattery; these are counsellors That feelingly persuade me what I am.”
He proceeds to compare their present state to be no different from the ‘penalty of Adam’, alluding to Adam’s exile from the Garden of Eden. He also states that the biting cold wind blowing in the forest is still better than the falsity of the court showered upon him, thus making him welcome even the inhospitable cold with a smile.
Sweet are the uses of adversity, Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head: And this our life, exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in every thing: I would not change it.
Here comes the infamous line ‘Sweet are the uses of adversity’, the very title of this extract. He praises adversity for its uses, which he then details. He compares adversity to an ugly, poisonous frog which still wears a crown, meaning to state that their situation is the same for in its ugliness lies a beauty as well. In little things that nature offers, far different from the pomp and splendour of the court, Duke Senior finds this beauty and states that he wouldn’t change it at all.
This is a heartwarming snippet from Shakespeare’s comedy. Despite being on a perilous situation, Duke Senior happens to be one of those who find joy and contentment that accompanies the state of acceptance.